Home Maintenance for your South Shore Home articles are brought to you by top Hingham Realtor, Alice Pierce of Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage in Hingham, MA.
7 Ways to Prevent Water Damage Now
Last week I shared with readers what I learned about minor roof repairs. Hopefully your roof is in good working order by now so the next largest structural protection your home affords you is the way drainage flows and the health of your plumbing. Water damage is, by far, one of the most common afflictions to our homes, and as experts point out, it is also something that is almost always preventable. Finding water leaks is not always that easy, but there are many things you can do before calling in the professionals.
Now that winter is officially over, here are some other areas of your south shore home to look into for water problems:
1) Foundation Drainage
Before there are any extended periods of rainy days, it is a good idea to make sure your outside drainage is going to divert water away from your house when it comes pouring down. It is likely that the ground surrounding the perimeter of your home is already at an effective slope, but if it isn’t, then fixing it now will save you multiple headaches later. If you have ditches or flat spots where once there were hills, you might need to revise with a shovel and some physical effort.
To keep water from coming into your basements or crawl spaces, the ground should slope away from the house on all sides. For proper drainage, this descending slope should have a gentle, sometimes barely perceptible angle away from your house.
Also be sure to check your gutters and downspouts. Make sure that you have needed extensions on your downspouts and proper splash blocks underneath each downspout. This will direct rainwater away from your home. Sometimes winter weather brings snow and ice sliding from your roof and this can knock off a gutter extension without you being aware of it.
2) Checking for Water Leaks Using Your Water Meter
Given that the structure and functionality of water diversion is adequate, you can now move into checking for water leaks.
Believe it or not, the first clue that you might have some leaking water is an increase in your Aquarion bill! But rather than waiting for your bill to arrive in the mail, you can analyze usage yourself by reading your own water meter. Even small leaks in what is supposed to be a tight system can can be costly. One dripping faucet can waste more than 60,000 gallons of water each year if left undetected. If you do have a leak somewhere, and it has been going on for a while, then your Aquarion bill might not reflect much of anything. But your water meter is an excellent source for leak detection.
3) How to Find and Read a Water Meter
Your water meter can be located inside or outside. If it is indoors is is generally in the basement, a crawl space or near your utilities. Water meters that are outside are flush with the ground. Water meters usually have a metal cover over the plastic face of the meter.
Reading your meter is a lot like reading the odometer of a car where you start on the left and read towards the right. You will see numbers that are over or under the title “Cubic Feet” or “Gallons” and these are printed as CCF and kgal respectively. The first number on the left represents 1,000 gallons of water and is usually colored differently from the other two numbers. The next number to the right of this is representative of 10 gallons, and the last number just 1 gallon. For cubic feet read it as 100 cubic feet, 10 cubic feet and 1 cubic foot respectively.
One complete revolution of the meter sweep-hand, which is the arm going in a circle, is equal to one cubic foot or 7.48 gallons. Aquarion bills in units of 100 cubic feet, or CCFs, which equal 748 gallons.
4) Using Your Water Meter as a Detective
The way to check your water meter is to first turn off all water sources inside and outside your home. Any water-using appliance should be turned off. It is easy to forget things like toilets, sinks, ice makers, sprinklers, and other water using appliances. Even washing machines and dishwashers should be shut off.
Then take the cover off of your water meter and look for the small triangle shaped gauge or red indicator that rotates when water flows through the pipe. This is called a flow indicator or “telltale.” If the flow indicator moves once you have all water sources shut off then it is likely that you have have a leak.
If your meter doesn’t have a flow indicator or a telltale, then write down the all of the numbers in the entire meter reading and wait about one hour, all the while not using any water. This includes not flushing the toilet or getting a drink from the faucet or refrigerator. If the reading has changed, you probably have a leak somewhere in your plumbing system.
Aquarion Water Company has a useful video if you need more direction.
5) How to Find a Water Leak Inside Your Living Space
There are multiple locations within your home that could possibly be leaking. Be sure you have turned the water back on to all of your water dependent appliances and functional items.
Start with your bathrooms since there are several areas where leaking can occur. Monitor the water level oin the toilets by dropping some food coloring into the tank (the square enclosure behind the bowl) and then wait ten minutes without flushing. If you see any of the color in the bowl, you have a leak within your toilet and will need to replace some parts, or call a plumber. One of the most common replacements is the flapper valve.
Stay on track in your bathrooms and look for splash leaks. These would not have been detected by your water meter. Splash leaks are simply water escaping past a shower curtain or a shower door. It is a very common leak problem and believe it or not, can cause major damage if the water repeatedly seeps into the subfloor where flooring meets the tub or shower. Flooring or tiles begin to loosen and the plywood subfloor can delaminate and rots out.
If you see curling vinyl flooring, peeling paint near the tub and shower, water stains below your bathroom, or mold spots you might have a very fixable problem. By simply overlapping your shower doors, hanging the interior shower curtain inside the tub and making sure it reaches to both ends, and using some weights in the curtain, you can prevent splashing.
Rim leaks allow water to seep under the rim or the base of the faucet and can gradually destroy your cabinets, flooring and ceilings below. If you find moisture inside the cabinet under your bathroom sink, a loose faucet base or deteriorating caulk around the sink or tub, you might have a rim leak. You can dribble water areas and look at the underside of the area using a flashlight.
While you are poking around the sink areas, consider a possible supply leak. Supply leaks underneath a bathroom vanity can go unnoticed for a long time since they’re usually at the back of the cabinet. Water can run down the pipes into the floor or subfloor, rotting the sink base, the floor and the framing. Obvious signs of trouble are dampness or water stains inside the cabinet. You can also take a dry paper towel and just dab around the shutoffs and connections, providing there is not natural condensation there from any ambient humidity. If there is a wet spot, then you have a small leak.
The kitchen is the next logical area to investigate. Look for evidence of moisture near the sink faucet, spray hose, under the dishwasher and around the ice maker of your refrigerator. Use your knowledge from the bathroom to look for rim and supply leaks in the kitchen as well. It is a good idea to run your dishwasher when checking for leaks.
Ambient heat is often a forgotten entity when it comes to water problems. Ambient heat sometimes relies on piping that grids floors and ceilings. When any of the joiners break down, you can have a huge and ongoing problem. The more contemporary systems are built differently so they tend not to have the same leakage problems. A good guideline for ambient heating systems is that once two or more joiners leak, it is time to refit all the piping to prevent subsequent, ongoing water damage.
6) How to Find a Water Leak in the Basement, Laundry and Utility Areas
The laundry room, utility area and of course the basement are all good spots to check for wayward water. Your washing machine, hot water tank, boiler and furnace area and the numerous shut off valves and pipe fittings are worthy of checking.
Usually the hot water tank shows its wear by simply failing. A slow drip starts and quickly progresses. It is important to turn off your water supply immediately when this happens.
Keep a close eye on your dehumidifier if you keep one in your basement. Even those that are self-emptying can malfunction causing a flood of water from the overflow bin. Once water comes into your basement, it can potentially soak paper, cardboard and wood which then grows mold.
Mind that the basement windows are shut in case of rain, and that your bulkhead door is sealed sufficiently.
7) How to Find a Water Leak Outside
Move on to those outdoor spigots and any irrigation systems. Cold winters can degrade the hosing in irrigation lines, and plumbing pipes within exterior walls stand a higher chance of freezing and cracking. Generally, the piping that supplies your outside spigot is indeed within an exterior wall.
The biggest problem with irrigation is when there is a breach in the piping itself. Most leaks occur because a valve fails to shut completely. Indications of leakage include overgrown, green areas of grass and soggy areas around spray heads. If you use a drip systems, leakage problems may be the result of damaged tubing or tape.
To detect a leak in your irrigation system, you have to make sure you are confident that there are no leaks inside of your home. Then shut off the water inside, and look again at your water meter to see if any water is flowing through. Small leaks are difficult to detect and then pinpoint. Sometimes a low flow leak detector wheel on your water meter is needed.
The buried, hidden, slow leaks whose presence has not yet been made known to you are almost impossible to find unless you involve a professional, and even then there is no guarantee. And although a pipeline leak is rare, it is certainly possible. The better you know your plumbing systems and water meter, the more attentive you can be to early water problems. For more protection than is afforded by a typical insurance policy, look into water valve protection plans.
As always, I would enjoy hearing from you regarding any of these articles, or if you are interested in buying a home in Hingham, Cohasset, Norwell, Hull, Scituate or any of the south shore towns. I would also be interested in talking to you about selling your home in any of our south shore communities. Please visit my website or email me. Additionally, feel free to call me at anytime 781-724-7622.